“We control our reasoned choice and all acts that depend on that moral will. What’s not under our control are the body and any of its parts, our possessions, parents, siblings, children, or country—anything with which we might associate.” —Epictetus, Discourses
I am in my mid-40s at the time I am writing this. My body is failing. That’s not to say the expiration date is near, but merely that I am hyperaware of the amount of wear and tear I have put on the machine. Military service in two different branches and a mobile lifestyle have taken a toll. I do not control my body’s reaction to this excessive wear and tear, but I do control my mind, and how it responds.
Our mind is the only thing, ultimately, that we do have control over, if we are fortunate enough to have a healthy brain. The lesson for myself, and anyone who chooses to read these words, is this: stop worrying about externality. Make choices that will keep your brain as healthy as possible. Let go of things you have zero influence over. News. Elections. The health of your national currency. What someone else thinks of you. It’s all quite irrelevant.
If you choose to engage with people on social media, remember that you don’t control what they think, and should therefore not become invested in those who have a different opinion than you. Express yourself, move on, and let go.
It was very icy this morning when I left the house, and even though I have all wheel drive, I found myself unable to make turns. Instead, I was sliding in straight lines across sheets of ice. I could easily have wrecked my expensive automobile. I realized that I couldn’t control the ice, or the way my car responded to it. Instead of getting upset, I crept home as slowly and carefully as I could. I made it safely, and for that I am grateful.
If I hadn’t, and had wrecked my car, I would focused on seeing the positives. My automobile has been great in the five years I’ve had it, but I am not attached to it. It’s just a tool that gets me where I want to go. My body is the exact same thing. A tool that gets my mind where I’d like it to go. In the realization of this, I am cognizant that I should try to take care of my car and my body, but that eventually, they will both fail me.
In the mean time, I’m focused on what’s really important – the choices I’m making, the habits I am forming, and the ideas I am exploring. Those are the only things that will matter when my existence is drawing to its close.
My circle of control is what’s happening inside my head. That’s the place that matters most, and what I do there will influence everything else. The same applies to you.